The Dielectrophoresis Network

at the University of Surrey


Stem cells & tissue engineering


Dielectrophoresis has a lot to offer the burgeoning field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.  The ultimate aim of the field is the development of new replacement tissues and organs, but there are several intermediate steps to this goal, including developing an understanding of the way in which stem cells differentiate, and an improved understanding of the way in which cells interact in a more native 3-dimensional structure, rather than a 2D flask. We have worked, both at surrey and with collaborators across the world to develop a deeper understanding about these mechanisms.


For example, we have worked with Dr Lisa Flanagan at the University of California Irvine on the dielectric properties of neural stem cells (both human and mouse) which shows that the likelihood of a neural stem cell to become a neuron, rather than an astrocyte, is strongly dependent on its membrane capacitance.  Such a difference could one day be used as the basis of a dielectrophoretic separation technique for isolating neuron-fated progenitor cells for transplantation.  Similar work has been conducted with Prof Richard Oreffo’s lab in Southampton on skeletal stem cells.  Another application is the study of cancer stem cells – exploring the possibility that stem cells play a role in the formation of cancer.  We have worked with Dr Dana Costea and Prof Tine Johannessen at the University of Bergen to analyse how degrees of stem-ness in cancer cells can be correlated to membrane changes via differences in the membrane capacitance of the cells, indicting how such cells could leave the tumour mass in order to metastasise.


In addition to work on conventional cell culture such as these, we have also worked on models more closely related to in vivo conditions.  We have explored this in multiple ways. For example, when we (working with Prof Mark Lewis, now at Loughborough) used DEP to analyse epithelial cancers grown in organotypical conditions (with a fibroblasic layer beneath) and compared them to those grown in 2D flasks, we found a remarkable fact – the cytoplasmic properties of tumour cells in 3D are quite different to those grown in flasks, but very close to normal cells grown in either condition, indicating that cellular differences targeted by drugs in vitro may give misleading results.  We have also been working on developing artificial 3D cell clusters using our dot electrode array, and have found that the effectiveness of drug treatment of adherent cells is quire markedly affected by growth conditions.


Related papers from the archive:


48, 53, 57, 59, 66

cell clusters cell3 cell2